Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Late Season Tomato Care & Recipes

Good morning gardeners!

Earlier this week I joyfully completed some garden clean up tasks in the cool drizzling September weather. Our raspberry plants produce twice a year. The fall berry crop is here and their weight actually tumbled the heavy canes over and broke their twine support. Time to harvest, prune up a bit, and retie supports. This type of raspberry will fruit on last year's canes so I need to be careful to not prune too much of the canes that will produce next year.

The garden bounty still includes cucumbers, beans, leeks, 'walla walla' onions, chard, and lots of herbs. We just harvested the last of our spring planted potatoes-fingerling and 'all blue' varieties. The summer squash plant finally fell prey to powdery mildew so I pulled it out of the garden. Our fall/winter crops are slowly growing: broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, and spinach.

Next I spent some quality time with my tomato plants. This has been an incredible summer for tomatoes, the best I can remember! My three cherry tomato, 'San Marzano' paste tomato, and 'Big White Pink Stripe' slicing tomato plants have all finished producing. I harvested the last of these tomatoes, composted the plants, and spread the soil from their containers around some shrubs. I grow a lot of edibles in containers and I never reuse the soil another year for edibles. First, the soil is tapped out of nutrients after working so hard to produce edibles all summer. Second, many fungal problems are soil borne and specific to individual crops or families. Better to spread this soil around an ornamental area of my garden, far from the edibles.

This leaves two tomato plants still standing: 'Lemon Boy' and 'Orange Strawberry.' These sturdy plants are still loaded with green fruit. Our average last frost in Portland is November 15. However, tomatoes do not thrive with night temperatures lower than 55 degrees. Currently our night temperatures are averaging around 55 degrees, with some nights cooler. Additionally, our day lengths are shortening and the sun is moving farther away from us. These are not ideal conditions for the summer-loving tomato.

At this point in the season you want your tomato plants to focus on ripening their existing green fruit. You don't want your tomatoes putting energy into green leafy plant growth or in producing any new fruit. There isn't time for new fruit production, with the exception of the tiny fruit of cherry tomato varieties. Indeterminate varieties of tomatoes will just keep growing and flowering until a frost kills them. That isn't helpful by this point in the season. We can encourage our tomatoes to focus on ripening their fruit by literally stressing them out. Tomatoes are seed-carrying fruits as a means of reproduction. When the tomato plant is stressed it stops growing and exerts its energy into its fruit.

--Prune your tomato plants to remove leaves and branches without fruit. Keep only the branches with fruit and a few leaves. It may seem brutal, but it is ok.

--Stop watering your tomato plants. I stopped watering mine in late August. Tomatoes are pretty drought tolerant.

--I know people who swear by root pruning. They slam a shovel into the soil around the base of the tomato plant which chops off the plant roots. I've never tried this technique, but I thought I would pass it on.

--Prune off any flowers, these are trying to produce new fruit. Next prune off any of the smaller green tomatoes. These may not have enough time to grow bigger and ripen on the plant. Let your tomato plant focus on the larger fruits. The smaller green fruits you prune off can ripen on the kitchen counter. Or use them for delicious green tomato recipes like: fried green tomatoes, green tomato chutney, green tomato gazpacho.

Here is my recipe for fried green tomato salad with feta & balsamic drizzle and here is my recipe for vegetable salad with fried green tomatoes & basil dressing.

And finally, what to do with all of those delicious ripe tomatoes? How about my favorite autumn tomato soup recipe? Autumn Garlicky Tomato Soup with Kale is flavorful and fresh with ingredients from the garden. Simple, delicious and nutritious.

This week I just whipped up our second batch of slow roasted tomato sauce. I froze 2 quarts and reserved 2 quarts for cooking this week. I baked a ridiculously good casserole of yam, garden fresh butternut squash, fingerling & purple potatoes, cheese, and I covered the whole mix with slow roasted tomato sauce before baking. Yum. This morning I am cooking a soup with a base of slow roasted tomato sauce, spaghetti squash, lentils, and quinoa. This cooler weather has really inspired me to get back into my kitchen!

Autumn Equinox is just around the corner on September 21st. Enjoy all the flavors, colors, and textures of the season!

Happy Gardening, Jolie

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